So I finally defended again. Two years since the last defense and nearly six years since enrolling, I have finally reached Ph.D. Candidate. I’ve watched others sail past me to completion in half that time. I’m happy for them and also a bit nauseated by the jealousy that I sometimes feel seeing each of them earn a degree in their 20’s that I’m still working on in my ’30s, not to mention their having done it at significantly less cost by virtue of having finished more quickly.
But of course few of them are trying to maintain entirely separate professional careers at the same time, or take care of and provide for a family. It’s also true that few of them began in the lower-middle class and continue there today.
Progress is good.
More progress would have been better.
No progress would have been worse.
That is the way of things.
— § —
A sociological anecdote.
I got course evaluations back for my first semester of teaching in Utah. I taught two sections of the same course:
- Same course title
- Same textbook
- Same building
- Same equipment in each class
- Same days
One class had 33 students and was early in the afternoon. The other class had 30 and was late. The most obvious difference between the two was that the later class had students that were, on the whole, about a decade older, mostly married, and more local than the earlier class.
The earlier class gave me one of my best course evaluations ever—nearly perfect on every item.
The later class gave me one of my worst course evaluations ever—including five students that gave me the worst possible rating on every item. It is the first time anyone, ever, has given me the worst possible rating on any item, in my half-decade of university instructing. This time five students did it, and they did it on every item.
The comments from the second section: overwhelmingly anger at me “forcing my politics onto” the students. Which, of course, I don’t. But this later, more Utah, longer-at-work-in-the-private-sector crowd is like the local population: They know that there are Things That Must Be Denounced in the world. Marx. China. “Gays.” “Alternative” religions. And in sociology class, we talk about all of these things in-depth, without denouncing them.
I knew it was coming, and here’s a political statement: It has something to do with American conservatism as it exists today and the fact that Utah is the most conservative state in the nation. But it only happened in one class. Why?
Was it just age? Balance of local vs. non-local students? Exposure to family life, roles, and statuses within the local culture? Adult socialization in the workplace? All of the above? None of the above?
What demographic or other difference(s) lead to the shocking divergence between the two identical classes?
— § —
There are several types of drivers in Utah that simply do not exist in New York.
- The Metallidriver. Has stripped all of the paint off of and removed all of the windows and seats from a vintage, highly dented, muffler-free Chevrolet Camaro. Wears torn-off jeans and a torn-off jean jacket covered in hair metal band patches. Has a Hulk Hogan moustache and long, bleached blonde hair that is badly splitting and damaged. Blasts Iron Maiden and Motley Crue songs out of said glass-free windows through a massive aftermarket stereo system that pierces all ears within 5 miles. Drives with head in constant “headbanging” motion using right hand to steer while left hand pumps fist maniacally outside driver’s side window in time with music and flailing head.
- The Invalidriver. Needs two assistants and a walking frame to make it from front door to largest late model Cadillac sedan being sold (approximately 45 minutes and two falls from front door to car door). Needs help to be seated in the car and to buckle seat belt, because neither head nor arm are any longer capable of the range of motion necessary to accomplish such a complex feat. Proceeds to drive at 15 miles per hour all over town (perpetually lost and angry about the fact that “they” keep “changing around all the streets”) using what is clearly a different traffic rulebook from anyone else. Upon finally arriving at the grocery store two blocks from home three hours after leaving, parks in a non-handicapped space (because “I’m perfectly able, dagnabbit”) and then yells out window for help from store personnel since there is no way to exit the vehicle without being lifted.
- The Octomomodriver. Generally short, stocky, and wearing pedal-pushers and a long, blonde ponytail, and driving a single-family schoolbus or utility van that seats 14 (one seat for Octomomodriver, eight for the kids, and five extras for one friend for each of the kids that are of school age). Doesn’t bat an eyelash at the pump next to you when dwarfing what you thought was your expensive $70 fill-up with a heaven-rocking $300 fill-up, presumably because the vehicle gets 2 miles per gallon. Upon stopping at red lights, jumps out of the vehicle, races to the side sliding door, opens it, leans into the gaping side of the van, cracks a large picnic cooler, and proceeds to spread peanut butter and jam on in-progress-while-in-transigt sandwiches (all 13 of them) until the light turns green, at that point throwing the cooler and sliding door shut using every last bit of strength available in such a small body, hopping back into the driver’s seat, and driving away just before the light turns red again, most of the green cycle having been consumed by the process of ceasing-peanut-buttering-and-returning-to-driving.
- The Goss’pothewarodriver. Always found in pairs that stop on residential roads facing opposite directions, with open drivers-side windows aligned, in order to discuss the latest goings-on at the ward house last Sunday. Do not edge to one side or the other of the road or bunch tightly before stopping, leaving no path to circumnavigate the obstruction. Cannot be dislodged with horn-honking, yelling, or a mere 30 minutes to an hour of patience. Will respond, upon interruption, with directions for turning around and taking a detour on another street to get where you were going, so as not to interrupt the tremendously important ongoing discussion.
- The Brighamsbroodadriver. Drives a blue car with blue BYU stickers on every side while wearing (and ensuring that all in the vehicle are wearing) licensed BYU hats, shirts, socks, and sneakers. Walks with fellow passengers in numerically appropriate formation (diamond, wedge, etc.) when moving between vehicle and buildings, tallest males first, shortest females last. Responds to any address of any kind with copious details about lineage traceable “back to brother Young himself.” Views anyone not wearing licensed BYU apparel suspiciously, taking it to be a sign that tithes have likely not been paid, and that the improperly dressed individual is likely in a permanent state of alcohol intoxication (which the Brighamsbroodadriver has never personally experienced but knows, as a matter of common sense, to be the state that drives figures like Osama bin Laden and “the gays” to their wicked excesses).
— § —
Price of a used Kindle (latest generation) in like-new condition on eBay: $47.
Wal-Mart price of a simple two-piece plastic Kindle cover weighing less than an average facial tissue: $49.
Clearly it is much more difficult to make injection-molded plastic accessories for technology items than it is to make functioning electronic paper display devices with microprocessors, memory, wireless communication, and embedded software.
Or maybe the world is just, if you think about it without letting the reifications and ideations beat your God damned mind senseless, fucking crazy.
— § —
I’ve given up on Apple’s Time Machine for my purposes after being faced with starting over yet again. I want my backups to—you know—stay on the disk, not disappear with regularity.
Switching to ChronoSync, which is so much less elegant, but hopefully actually functional.
— § —
I fully intended to disable advertising on said used Kindle, but for the first time in my life I’ve found that the advertising is actually useful to me. Maybe user-specific, locally-contextualized advertising is finally actually starting to work.
I won’t, however, be linking it to my Facebook or Twitter accounts. My highlights remain mine.
— § —
That’s the thing.
Anyone that doubts the clockwork nature of the universe just hasn’t been paying attention.
A day happens, and then a day, and then a day. They are of uniform length and character. They can’t be stopped; the mainspring is too tightly wound and there is no position from which to obtain the necessary leverage.
A day, and then a day, and then a day, and it’s the better part of a year since you left New York, the better part of two years since your daughter was born, half a decade since you enrolled at what still feels like your new Ph.D. program, a decade since you began your graduate school career, a decade and a half since those early mornings walking across the lawn toward the anthropology building, coffee in hand.
You sit on the floor, cross-legged in dim and dusky window light, looking at your sleeping daughter and wondering if there will ever be a way to communicate to her the ridiculously accelerated and invariant nature of being, or any real reason to do so at the end of the day, despite the sense that it’s an incredibly important thing to do.
Where does that sense come from? Awareness of mortality? Deeply valuing life and not wanting another moment of it to go to waste (given the keen awareness that inevitably exists by this age of all the wasted time in one’s life)?
The dim, dusky light?
Empirical experience would seem to indicate that it’s the last item, since that’s always when this group of sensations emerges again.
But I hesitate to just attribute what I feel at those moments to sunset and the shade of the drapes.
Though it’s also true that at those moments I’m not sure that there’s anything more important in the entire universe than myself, my child, sunset, and the shade of the drapes.
— § —
I have no idea what we’re going to do this summer, or this fall.
— § —
Conservatives in Utah are infuriated by background checks required to own semiautomatic weapons, the requirement to wear seat belts, the prospect of health care reform, regulations of any kind on banks, or the suggestion that restaurants ought to post the calorie counts of their menu items for customers’ convenience. These are all evidence of the “nanny state” trying to turn America into a “communist” nation.
Conservatives in Utah impose, at the same time, more restrictions than any other state on alcohol distribution and consumption, forbidding restaurant goers to order more than one drink, a double drink, a drink without food, or an entire bottle, forbidding restauranteurs to taste any of the wines they buy in order to sell, and forbidding bars from having spirits or bartenders visible to the public in case these somehow support or legitimize the consumption of alcoholic beverages. They are careful to ensure that all public and semi-public services, agencies, and conveniences are completely unavailable on Sundays. They zone out of existence magazine shops, video stores, clubs, and dozens of other kinds of establishments that don’t reflect “the right kinds of values.” They make space in the public school curriculum for church service immediately adjacent to public school campuses on a daily basis for an hour or more for school credit and strongly encourage counselors to strongly encourage students to attend. All office-holding politicians must be Mormon and/or conservative. Unlike the gun safety, seatbelt safety, or health care issues, these are evidence not of the nanny state, but of a sensible public enacting sensible self-preservation measures.
Yet there is no hypocrisy in Utah. (You see, it’s been officially forbidden by the church.)
— § —
More time passes. It’s 11:02 at the end of yet another day.